Tuesday, July 1, 2008

It is hard to regulate

In our household, healthy eating is enforced ruthlessly. I am more of an unquestioning agent in this endeavour. But my past indiscretions and current size mean that I do not have the moral high ground in this department.

What that means is that our children get hardly any special treats, most of the food is preservative free, there is very little eating out, and every dinner involves vegetables before you get anything else. As a consequence, to all appearances, we look like a model of healthy eating. And for our two eldest, I suspect they conform to our model (they either like vegetables -- Child No.2 who is an anomaly -- or food -- Child No.1 who is obsessed with it and so will toe the line to get enough).

But what of Child No.3? I mentioned earlier that I regard her as the most strategic of our children. So when she is presented with vegetables at dinner, she often chooses to eat nothing. She is 3 years old and looks well enough fed and so we put this in the category, 'if she were really hungry she would eat' so missing dinner was not the end of the world.

What shouldn't surprise you is she eats breakfast just fine. That isn't unhealthy but it isn't vegetables either. But by that time she is surely hungry so that makes sense. Sadly, what this means is that we are substituting breakfast for vegetables. So much for getting vegetables in her.

But Child No.3's substitution and patience goes way beyond that. When she goes to a party, gets fed at school or goes to someone else's house, she eats like a pig. It is almost like she is stocking up for the winter. Basically, what I think is that she has worked out that she needs to stock up when the going is good but at dinner-time she realises that she just has to wait and some healthy food options will come along.

How do we know this? Well, when she spends a few days at home and is under our control, she starts to eat her dinner; vegetables and all. Her plate is cleaned in seconds. It is stunning to watch. Put simply, she is not getting enough otherwise. And it is not like she is begging for dinner or anything. Moreover, she questions all of the time prior to this event about when she is going back to school. If it seems to far in the future, vegetables are back on the table. It is not that she hates them, she just optimises over time.

Our problem is that we do not have perfect control over her eating options outside of the home. So in the ordinary course of our lives, Child No.3 can substitute away from her controlling parents. We could complain to the school or to others but I am pretty sure she will find another route. Then again, it is not like those outside options are so bad in the health department. They are just not at the extreme at home. I think through her activities, an appropriate balance has been struck. (After all, we all do that. I found this out when the chocolate cafe near Child No.3's mother's work knew her on a first name basis with 'the usual' meaning a warm, rich Italian hot chocolate!)